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GAME DAY: Minnesota

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

BLUE JACKETS (16-15-7) VS. WILD (21-14-2)




A few weeks ago, it looked as if the Minnesota Wild had all but punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs and had their eyes on the Northwest Division title. But as they embark on a crucial game on Sunday afternoon at Nationwide Arena, they face an opponent on an equally-desperate quest for points to stay in the race.

The Blue Jackets, eager to put a disappointing 3-1 loss in St. Louis behind them, have 10 games remaining on their schedule with virtually no margin for error. On the other side of the ice is Minnesota, a club that's dropped three straight and four of its last five games - leaving the Wild just two points clear of eighth place (currently held by the Blues) and two points behind the Canucks for the division lead.

Saying the Western Conference is a logjam is offensive to logjams. It's sardine-like right now.

And the similarities don't stop there for the Blue Jackets and Wild: both clubs made significant deals at last week's trade deadline, with Minnesota picking up forward Jason Pominville from the Buffalo Sabres in a package that included prospects Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett and two draft picks. The Blue Jackets, as you know, sent three players to the New York Rangers for Marian Gaborik and the 31-year-old sniper has had an instant impact on the Columbus offense.

Gaborik scored the game-winner in his Jackets debut in Nashville, re-directing a beautiful centering feed from Brandon Dubinsky in the third period. He also set up a power play goal in the first period against the Predators and picked up an assist on Columbus' only goal in St. Louis. Gaborik has the benefit of familiarity with line mates Artem Anisimov and Vinny Prospal - whom he knows from his time in New York - and the trio has been effective at both even strength and on the power play.

The Wild, struggling to find some consistency, do possess a potent offense with Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Devin Setoguchi and others capable of putting the puck in the net. For today's game, though, they will be without the services of Dany Heatley (who took a slash in their last game) and Matt Cullen, two sources of secondary offense.

Niklas Backstrom was pulled in his last start, but it's expected he will get the start in Columbus.

- The Blue Jackets are looking to continue on this solid run that has them in playoff contention. They are 11-3-3 in their last 17 games and have lost just three times in regulation since Feb. 24.

- Columbus is 14-6-1 against Minnesota in the all-time series at Nationwide Arena.

- Sergei Bobrovsky holds the NHL's seventh-best goals-against average (2.09) entering Sunday's game and is 8-0-2 in his last 10 appearances on home ice.

- Gaborik is playing his third game as a Blue Jacket and third game against the team that drafted him third overall in 2000. In two previous meetings with the Wild, Gaborik has put up a goal and an assist.

- Sunday's game will have many themes off the ice. Military Appreciation Night will recognize all service branches, while USA Hockey Night will celebrate the rich American history of hockey!

- The first 5,000 kids under the age of 12 will receive a Jack Johnson collectible puck.

Jonas Brodin


2012-13 STATS: 2-7-9, 34 GP

The Wild were expecting a solid rookie season from the 19-year-old Swedish defenseman, but Brodin has exceeded expectations. He's spent most of his 34 games this season alongside Ryan Suter and hasn't looked out of place, showing defensive awareness and a great sense of timing when rushing the puck. Brodin's not the biggest kid (listed at 166 lbs.) but he makes up for it with his elite hockey sense, and he looks to have found himself a permanent spot in the NHL.

COLUMBUS: Jared Boll (upper body), day-to-day; Tim Erixon (upper body), day-to-day

MINNESOTA: Matt Cullen, Dany Heatley

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